It’s seldom in sports for one to be privileged with the opportunity to witness a moment that will forever live on. A moment much greater than the often here today and gone tomorrow highlights on ESPN, but rather, a sports spectacle monumental in regards to the history of the game of basketball as we know it. Such plays include the under-the-basket, one-handed reverse layup Julius Erving inhumanly pulled off, Larry Bird stealing the game against the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, along with Michael Jordan’s “Last Shot” to end the Utah Jazz’ championship hopes in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
And then you have that unforgettable night, where a narrowly built, 6’0” rookie crossed over the greatest player in NBA history just before splashing a pull-up jumper over M.J’s contested hand.
Allen Iverson entered the NBA as the top overall pick and would bring with him to the Philadelphia 76ers a reputation that preceded him, dating all the way back to his high school days. Iverson had been widely portrayed as a troublemaker, refusing to do things any way other than how he wanted them done. It’s what fueled him and ultimately, transformed Iverson into the revolutionary basketball icon that would shape the culture of the sport to this very day. Hampton, Virginia made him this way. The tough, inner-city streets he roamed growing up made him a warrior, a rebel and the legend that would take the basketball world by storm March 12, 1997.
At the time, Iverson was already well into boldly stating his arrival in the NBA, which would ultimately result in a Rookie of the Year award. But on this night, the greatest player in the world and his defending champion Chicago Bulls were on site at the CoreStates Center, and despite the Sixers’ season having only 16 wins at that point, it was must-see TV.
Of course, this became the case any time Jordan stepped foot on the hardwood, anywhere. But this night would belong to the 76ers’ young, feisty and fearless rookie.
From the opening tip, Iverson was on a mission to prove, even if just to himself, that he belongs on the same court as Jordan. Iverson would score the game’s opening basket before leading all scorers with 11 after the first 12 minutes.
There was no way Iverson was going to back down; not on his court in Philly; not against Jordan with the lights shining.
This never became more apparent than in the third quarter. A Jordan three was quickly answered with an Iverson floater after a crafty crossover. On the other end, Jordan knocked down the baseline jumper, only to seconds later have that topped with an Iverson three. A handful of possessions later, Iverson’s momentum continued after a missed Jordan jumper led to another quick transition three. Iverson had quickly strung together his own personal 10-point run after four-consecutive connections.
A few possessions came and went, and then it happened. A pass to Iverson heading towards the top of the led to a switch that the basketball gods planned perfectly: Jordan, defending Iverson at the top of the key in an isolation set.
Iverson instantly went into attack mode.
A quick crossover to the left was followed by one to the right, and back to the left. The crowd rose in anticipation of a legendary moment as A.I. followed his hesitation moves with a hard crossover to the right that rocked Jordan as Iverson hit the 20-foot jumper over a recovering Jordan that left the world’s best player questioning what had just happened Allen Iverson was the answer.
On this night, we were gifted with the joy of watching the solidified arrival of an imminent star and a crossover that became a staple for the future Hall of Fame guard. Iverson lived it and was eager to speak on the topic.
“I used to always tell my friends that when I get on that stage, I’m going to try my move on the best. I’ll never forget coming off a screen and him switching and Phil Jackson hollering his name, telling him to switch out on me.”
The opportunity to one-up the legendary Michael Jordan had presented itself. There was only one thing Iverson daring personality would allow him to do.
“I gave him the first little one, and I see that he’s biting on it. And I hit him with the second one and made the shot.”
Iverson had never backed down from any challenge. It simply wasn’t possible. It wasn’t how he was built. He didn’t know it then, but that matchup at the top of the key would ultimately go down as a historical moment that only justified the heart Iverson wore on his sleeve every night.
“I was going to put my move to the test, to see if it was real. It had to be real if it worked on the greatest player to ever play the game. That made me feel good.”
The moment signified more than just a crossover and a made shot. This was a crossover that paved the way for Iverson’s career with the Sixers and a new era in basketball. Philly had found its own personal Jordan in the frame of a 6’0” hard-nosed competitor. There was no question about it: The Answer had arrived.